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17 Jul '08

Vision demystified - the last 20%

We indicated in the previous blog entry that 80% of vision for the local church has to do with what the people of God ought to be and crafting a mission, set of guiding principles, central ministry focus and culture of spiritual vitality to help God's people become transformed into His image. Getting clarity on those four areas is not easy but it is not complicated either. It simply takes the time and hard work of leaders to clarify, communicate and then be intentional in living these four areas out.

Then there is the other 20%. Here, leaders must make critical directional decisions that help the congregation maximize its spiritual influence in the community in which it is located - and in the world that it wants to reach. These directional decisions have significant opportunity to help the church expand its spiritual influence.

Directional decisions can include staffing, building, relocating, initiating ministry initiatives, killing no longer effective ministries, governance changes, community initiatives and other key decisions.

I think it is helpful to differentiate between two kinds of directional decisions. Global and local. I am not using these terms geographically.

By global, I mean directional decisions that actually change the game for a congregation. They are the kinds of decisions that are infrequent but significant - they are game changers. Take for instance, the game changer that Crystal Evangelical Free Church undertook in a suburb of Minneapolis. Historically the church had served an upper middle class congregation and community and was one of the larger churches in the
EFCA.

When the church outgrew its campus in Crystal, it relocated to New Hope several decades ago where it continued to expand. Over the last decade, however, the community of New Hope changed significantly from an upper white middle class community to an ethnically diverse, lower class community.

The typical response to churches in changing communities is to continue to do ministry as usual and either relocate to a community that reflects its constituency or stay and become a commuter church with its traditional constituency driving from further out neighborhoods.

As Steven
Goold, the senior pastor and his board pondered the changing landscape they chose a drastic, risky, prayerful and considered decision not only to stay but to intentionally change their ministry to minister to the multi-ethnic, lower class community. This was a global decision that changed the ministry game of the congregation.

It meant diversifying the staff. It meant accepting the fact that some who had called Crystal their church home would leave. It meant that the budget would probably go down. It meant learning new ways to do worship and doing the tough work of building love and unity in a multi-ethnic congregation rather than a white upper middle class congregation. It meant learning new ways to relate, to minister, to relate. It changed everything. It even meant changing the name of the church to reflect the community in which it was located "New Hope." It has not been easy but God is blessing the decision and God is at work in awesome ways.

Global decisions like this are the result of a huge amount of prayer, seeking God's direction, dialogue, discussion, planning and reflection. They are made by thoughtful leaders who have done the hard work of discerning the times, the opportunities, the right course of action and who have the courage to lead a deliberate process in order to make the transition from what is to what God is calling the church to. Such decisions should never be made quickly, should never be made without counting the cost - and there will be a cost - and should never be made without the leadership commitment to work the necessary process.

Most directional decisions are "local," in that they are key decisions but more limited in their scope. For instance, a decision to focus on compassion ministries within one's community in order to meet the commitment of the congregation to be the hands and feet of Jesus would fit this definition. Many local directional decisions are made on an annual basis in order to further the spiritual influence of the congregation and maximize its effectiveness.

The point here is that vision is a deliberate process on the part of leaders to maximize the opportunity and spiritual influence of the congregation. Most of these key directional decisions are limited in scope and a few are game changers. If leaders want to be "visionary," it is not necessary to have huge aspirations. It is necessary to be deliberate in figuring out how they can maximize the opportunity God has given them and then make the directional decisions to expand its effectiveness or influence.

You can be a leader in any community and any size church and be a leader and church of great vision. In fact, God has called you to do that. Vision is not the purview of the huge ministries around the world. It should be the vision of every congregation in every community.

One final thought. Wise leaders spend a lot of time praying, thinking and talking about how to maximize the opportunity God has given them. This means that they understand that their job is not to manage the present but to thoughtfully plan for the future. These kinds of discussions and times of prayer need to make up a large part of the time and work of church leaders. Vision is about the future and always pressing the
missional agenda of the church for the sake of Christ and His kingdom.